"Lift every voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty"
Have you ever heard the "Black National Anthem"?
I mean, have you ever heard it sung purely from a black man or woman and felt it echo off the walls of your home? Could you feel the struggles that came before you and maybe even before them, although it was sung smoothly and almost effortless? Did the words and harmony ever settle so deep into your mind that you found yourself humming the tune to yourself? You probably skipped most of the lyrics between the beginning and the end, but I bet you never forgot that feeling. I haven't.
First time I heard it was by my father, (may Allah rest his soul and grant him Paradise), who had one of the most beautiful singing voices I've ever heard. He would be walking through the house somedays and randomly bust out into singing, partially showing off his voice but also sending subliminal messages to us. I was always curious about music even before I started writing myself, and anytime he sung a song that I didn't know, I wondered 'what's the title and who wrote it, and what did it mean'. This was before Shazam, google, or any easy access we have now to help song credits. All I knew was this song was sung by the people who were oppressed and it made them feel free even though they knew they weren't.
It was written by James Weldon Johnson, who was the first African American to be chosen as executive secretary of the NAACP. I read somewhere that it was sung at a birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln, or read as a poem. I personally don't totally agree with all of Lincoln's intentions as it applies to African Americans, but as I'm writing this, it makes me think of Amanda Gorman, who just performed "The Hill We Climb" at Joe Biden's Inauguration. Regardless of both these presidents, their agendas, and whether or not we agree or disagree with them, the platform that it gave these two poems an opportunity it to be heard on was more than appropriate.
"Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us"
My father had a smooth and bright singing voice, but when he sung this part, he went low and added the bass back to his voice. It was the part that I could join in and sing even though he didn't pass the singing gift down to me. The cadence of the words also reminded me of hip hop so the familiarity made it even more relatable. But the lyrics in this section is, to me, the epitome of the entire song. To sing, with faith, that you learned from a dark past and feel that the present brings hope of a bright future.
That to me is "Black History"; a dark past with high notes and low notes. So dark, that even the dim lights we are standing in right now seem bright when compared, and that gives us hope that it'll get brighter. Much of this history wasn't taught to us in schools, but still was passed on by people like my father singing to his children.
"Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won."
The lyrics in this song was were I choose my first rap name "Rising Sun" from. I never abandoned that name, though it's ironic that, people who were close to me in the music industry just started calling me "Rise" for short. The "Rashid" came from my father's name. I just realized while I was writing this, that subconsciously, I've carried the feeling of this song with me, in my career and my life, ever since I heard my father singing it. Now it feels like he's in the sky, listening. Hopefully all of our ancestors are and they find pleasure in what they hear.
"Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies"